Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Suddenly, I Want a New Bully Game

A few days ago, Take-Two took out a trademark for "Bully" which you might remember as a Rockstar-developed Playstation 2 game that saw a few ports thereafter.  Being a Rockstar title, it was a sandbox action title in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, but scaled down quite a bit in terms of language and violence considering the characters were more or less kids.  Of course it didn't -lack- violence completely, which is something that a lot of groups at the time came out in arms about, though ultimately it didn't lead to much I don't think.  The trademark casts a rather wide net for use, so the obvious line of thought for the internet is that it's an indication of a sequel.  At the mention of that, I thought about it for only a brief moment before deciding that yes, that would indeed please me.

The interesting thing about Bully is that it is pretty much a game that had to be very, very careful with what it contained, given that it was doing something that most developers wouldn't even dare try to touch.  It was giving us characters that were kids doing things we don't want to believe kids do:  Fighting, cursing, scheming, bullying, vandalizing and just generally being bad.  It was all mostly parody, of course and despite the name of the game, the character you play wasn't really much of a bully, in that yeah, you could do some jerk-ish things to other kids, but the actual bullying generally had to do with the story and, more often than not, our main character was set out against it.  Still, despite the parody aspect of it, it was surprisingly candid in the story aspect of it while also striking a rather nice balance of funny and serious.  At least, some people thought so, since it won some awards for its script, and being a Rockstar game meant that it was...well, a good game, that's for sure.

A sequel to the game is tantalizing because Bully was a good game by its own merits and Rockstar has upped their game several notches on the whole Sandbox front, so a sequel in the same hands as the original could be fantastic.  If there was anything I didn't like about the original Bully, it was that, for as large as the surrounding area around Bullworth was, it felt by-and-large empty which is something that wasn't exclusive to that single Rockstar game since they were still in the process of refining the techniques of it.  While I understand we are talking about different branches of Rockstar here, I can't imagine that things are not shared between them all, so the vibrancy that we've seen in recent releases would likely be present in whatever setting a Bully 2 would have.  The end result will likely be something that makes a go-kart an excellent reward, given how fast and easily it'll let you get around and explore, rather than just being something fairly neat to drive around places fast and...go...back to school when you're done.

Unfortunately, I am wary about thinking of another Bully game getting made in today's world, given the renewed vigor people were using in going after video games not too long ago.  Schools and video games are even more touchy than they were back when Bully came out the first time and not without merit, even if, as stated, Bully was not bad nor dangerous in any way.  By all accounts, it was extremely tame and restrained for a Rockstar game, even with the different team working on it.  Still, perception and reality are often far too far apart, and I do worry what would actually come out of a Bully sequel as much as I want one made on the merits of the original.  That's partially why I'm wondering if this just isn't a preface to porting the game again somewhere else (like the iOS/tablet audience) or simply just....registering the trademark so nobody else can have it.  The coming months will let us know -something-, I'm sure, but regardless what comes of it, if it just reminds everyone what a good game Bully actually was, well, that ain't a bad outcome at all.

yes, I know there were things to do in Bullworth's vicinity but they were kind of boring things so they don't count

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Conquest, I Choose You!

It's been a while since I've actually talked about Pokemon Conquest and that's mostly because of the fact that until recently, as in a couple days ago, the game was not in my possession.  That has been remedied, obviously, and in my latest little wealth of things to do where I still find things lacking, I have decided to throw it into my 3DS and have a go with it.  I will say that it is pretty much exactly what it offers on the tin - it is clearly a cross-over of Pokemon and KOEI's version of Feudal Japan, though not necessarily Nobunaga's Ambition; clearly the sprites of the Warriors are from Samurai Warriors 3, you know the game that was Wii-exclusive in America which was fucking annoying for someone who buys every goddamn retail Warriors game he can play at least in theory.  Though, regardless of the backdrop and the main characters being from Samurai Warriors, you can clearly tell that there are Game Freak or The Pokemon Company fingers in the writing pie, which I can't say in all honesty is a good move.  Either that or KOEI's writers played a Pokemon game and copied its basic concept....which is what Game Freak does anyway.  Either way.

There's not a whole lot of meat to the story, at least not at the start.  "There are pokemon, Warriors are people who can communicate 'wordlessly' with pokemon (except they verbally command them anyway) and some Warriors rule one of the seventeen kingdoms of the land.  You are the new ruler of Aurora.  So....have fun with that." is basically the entirety of the intro, and then you are handed off to Oichi the tutorial queen for a little while until the game starts progressively opening up.  It's light-hearted and lacking, as your first 'major' goal is to conquer the kingdom right next to you....which is not a challenge in the least.  Ignis (it's a Fire Kingdom) is ruled by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (this stops making sense...really fast) and is there to be steam-rolled by you with your Eevee and Oichi with her Jigglypuff.  After that, Fontaine and Greenleaf (Water and Grass respectively GEE CAN YOU SEE THE THEME IT'S ALMOST LIKE THE FIRST THREE KINGDOMS ARE FIRE, WATER AND GRASS LIKE THE STARTER POKEMON IN EVERY POKEMON GAME EVER) open up and once you conquer them with similarly lacking amounts of aplomb, you get the 'story' of the game as it were.

There is apparently a rumor/legend in Ransei (the area Conquest takes place in) that whoever unites the seventeen kingdoms under the same banner will awaken 'the legendary pokemon' and apparently be granted its power for ill or good.  And rumors state that Oda Nobunaga (see?  Hideyoshi having his own kingdom already makes no sense at all) is working towards that goal so he can...wait for it...wait for it.....destroy the Ransei region.


This right here is why I say that somebody who usually works on Pokemon games had their hand in the story.  Because this right here?  This is a carbon-copy of every Team ambition from Ruby/Sapphire on in so many words.  Sure, some of the teams aren't hoping for global destruction, but rather world dominance or something but close enough.  My question is why?  Why is this necessary?  Why does Nobunaga have to want to destroy the land?  Is it there to paint him as an obvious bad guy?  There are other ways, better ways to do this.  Ways that just involve him being kind of a dick which makes sense instead of being cartoonishly evil which -doesn't- make sense.  I honestly thought Pokemon Conquest would be refreshing since it's...not really conducive to having a Team "Something", but that right there makes Nobunaga him a one-man Team Nobunaga with a hair-brained scheme for a legendary pokemon who will ultimately be thwarted by a child.

Of course the story and setting is only half of the set-up with the actual gameplay being the other part of it.  Though it bills itself as a Nobunaga's Ambition game, I'm going to say that it's a very, very 'lite' version of the franchise which I'm not impressed with in the slightest.  You have Kingdoms (should be Fiefdoms) that you conquer to add to your own dominion and each Kingdom has their own buildings (none of which you place unless that comes later on, which is possible) and you have your officers that can do things, but none of it is simulation-related, as in one of the things that is kind of a draw to the Nobunaga's Ambition (and those types of games in general) but rather centered on your Pokemon.  You can train them with random battles (some of which give you other Warriors if you fulfill conditions) make their energy values go up and buy them items to equip on them for use in battle, things like that so far.  Which...leaves a lot to be desired, in all honesty.

Battles are obviously not the standard Pokemon fare, and are instead more of a tactical/strategy RPG system that you might see in the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem and similar.  So far into the game, though I suspect it's the case for the entirety of it, every Warrior only has one Pokemon to their name and that Pokemon only has one move of their own which flies in the face of Pokemon logic if nothing else.  In a sense, that sort of categorizes every pokemon that's included into a..."Class" ala normal SRPGs in terms of how they can attack, in that Charmanders and Tepigs appear to be akin to "Archers" since their Ember attack can only hit from two blocks away (meaning a block between you and the enemy), while a lot of others have strange attack ranges as well.  Anything with Vine whip hits the square in front of them and to the left and right of that square at once, making it really powerful if your enemies are all lined up.  While moves are common between a few pokemon, everyone also has a "Warrior" move which seems to be at least slightly unique.  Warrior moves can be activated once per battle and range from vastly increasing your move range (base Eevee skill), Healing nearby (all?) allies (base Jigglypuff skill) or just upping the chance of inflicting a status ailment (my warrior with Charmander has this), though there are other variations, of course.

Admittedly my exposure to the game isn't nearly full yet, and it still has quite a bit of time to impress me.  I know Pokemon can at least Evolve, which I assume changes their move if nothing else, and I eagerly await making my Eevee into a Glaceon because Glaceons are awesome.  Likewise, I'm going to try to nab me a Warrior with a Pikachu with the goal to make it a Raichu because it wouldn't be me playing a Pokemon game if I didn't grab up a Raichu.  That alone makes me want to at least continue into the game even though I feel it's a bit shallow at the moment, because that little hint of depth encourages me that there will be more.  Maybe I'm wrong, but that's something I'm going to find out, that's for sure.  And you know, maybe I'll just unify Japan in the meantime if I'm not too busy and all.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Confession Time - I Don't Really Like Pinball

I'm in that sort of weird period of time where I want to play something, but just about anything I could -want- to play is long-enough of a commitment that it'll go right through the time in a couple weeks when Dragon's Crown comes out.  This is not good, because I'm going to play Dragon's Crown because it's going to be awesome, and I'm going to be a Wizard and everything is going to be wizard.  (I tried to find something appropriate for that reference and it failed.  Definitely not wizard)  Anyway, instead of playing through Muramasa Rebirth on Fury (which I did unlock, thank you Chance, it took some doing, but I re-did the boss fight as Momohime on Chaos and it was awesome), slapping Persona 4 Golden back in (because honestly, one play isn't enough), getting rid of Virtue's Last Reward and replacing it with BlazBlue (which is hard because I love VLR even though I platinum'd it) or even just playing Shin Megami Tensei IV or Pokemon Conquest on my 3DS XL (which I'm loathe to do because I hate holding that thing all day from Animal Crossing) I decided "Hey, I got Pinball Arcade for Vita with Playstation Plus, so let's try that."


This....I'm not going to say it was a mistake, but, er, I'm just....I'm really not a fan.  I've played Pinball in the past and I haven't really enjoyed it then despite knowing that I should by all rights, but it has never clicked with me.  It's far too busy, especially when you have tables like the above pictured, the flippers always seem to make the ball go where I don't actually want it to go, and far too often have I been subject to watch in hopelessness as my ball hits one of the side 'gutters' and I simply cannot stop it or recover it.  It's akin to pouring out a glass of water in front of a prone man dragging himself through the desert.  Like throwing table scraps to a dog while someone starved watches on.  Like making really bad metaphors and making you read through them to get to a point.  My point is that on far too many occasions, my ball was thrown into a gutter through no fault of my own, and it's agonizing and all I can do is flip the flippers with fury unchecked while I mutter curse words to the electronic voice shouting out about Shrunken Heads or Bigfoot or traveling to Africa or shut the fuck up, RipleyJust shut up.

Anyway, one of the gripes I do have with Pinball Arcade is that it has a....rather unintuitive start-up if you're walking into it without really knowing anything.  Because I opened it, got through the title screen and saw "Season One Tables" and "Season Two Tables" and went "hmm, that's odd" and just went into Season One, looking around until I saw the Star Trek:  The Next Generation table.  Interested, I clicked on it and was informed that I could buy it or a table pack for value and I didn't have a damn clue what was going on.  It was only after going back to the initial options and looking at the third one over "My Tables" that I actually understood what was that whole bit actually was.  Obviously, they want to sell you some more tables and that's perfectly acceptable but....I don't know, maybe make option number one "PLAY THE TABLES I CURRENTLY OWN BY SOME MAGIC".  Maybe.  It might just be helpful.  Just a bit.  Perhaps.  Tiny bit useful.

Pinball Arcade initially comes with four tables - Black Hole, Ripley's Believe it or Not!, Tales of the Arabian Nights and Theatre of Magic - all of which have their own themes and quirks that admittedly do make them rather interesting in design if nothing else.  It's thanks to this that I understand the enthusiasm for Pinball Machines in general, as they're rather intricate, amazing little things that have had an inordinate amount of thought, creativity and love put into them.  Black Hole, for instance, is a space-themed machine and it has a spot in the middle that you can kind of see, but it's kind of dark, presumably being the "Black Hole".  At a certain point, you can get your ball into an area where it'll drop into a -lower- area of the machine that lights up under that glass spot, revealing an inverse pinball machine.  Rather than rolling towards you, the ball rolls -away- from you while the flippers are switched as well, making it all a crazy, interesting perspective twist that is really cool on its own merits.

All of the tables have their own little thing like that which I can like or dislike (as stated above, the Ripley table is just far too busy with all the stuff on it) on merit, but there is the whole matter of playing it.  No matter how awesome a table is structured or built, I'm still just watching a ball roll around until I can hit it with a flipper and then until I can hit it with a flipper again until inevitably it rolls into the "lose" sections while I'm basically unable to do anything about it because it went right between the flippers (happens more than you think), goes into one of the 'gutters' or just zips by so fast that it doesn't even care that I hit it and instead uses that momentum to fly down faster or something I don't even know.  Perhaps it's simply because I got my fill of Pinball as a young'n with Sonic Spinball (a damn brilliant game if I may say) or perhaps it's just because I'm missing the point, but it just doesn't grab me.  It's a shame, really, because in theory it should be enough to hold my attention, but unfortunately not.  Now I just have to figure out what to do with my time until Dragon's Crown.

I will probably end up playing Pokemon Conquest because it's Pokemon and Sengoku-era Japan and HOW CAN YOU SAY NO

Friday, July 26, 2013

Music! KARA Edition

It's been...quite a while since I've done up a proper Music! post even though I have been listening to quite a bit of new music recently, so with nothing else to really post about tonight, I figured now was as good a time as any.  As I am wont to do even when I'm -not- battle severe mood issues, I've been turning back to K-Pop (he says, pretending he ever left it in the first place for a slight bit of his masculinity) and among those K-Pop choices, KARA has come up more than once.  In fact, it's come up three times, which is rather convenient, as you know I generally go through three songs at a clip because I feel that's a good amount at one time.  That's just me, of course, and it's just kind of how I do things, but it's served me well so far, so I'm gonna stick with that.

The first song is not the first KARA song I've heard (that was actually "Wanna" which I'm linking here because it's not featured) and in fact, I don't know what number it is.  I just know that, of the three I'm going to show off tonight, it's my least favorite which isn't to say I dislike it, because I really do like it.  It's just, obviously, I like the other ones more.  That kind of happens sometimes.  What's surprising to me is that I don't listen to this song more often than I do, but that's generally just because I'm listening to the other songs of theirs I enjoy.  Still, this is light and fun and all of that good stuff, I just suppose it's perhaps not quite as much as the rest.  Still, first up is "Step" which may or may not actually be spelled "STEP", I don't know.  It's kind of one of those things.

It might be a surprise, but I don't actually pay a lot of attention to these videos, since I tend to just sort of pull them up on my Vita, plug in my headphones and listen while I do whatever (since they're not on Music Unlimited because why would they be on a service called Music Unlimited).  Which I am in no way bringing up because it's going to be relevant in the next video or anything like that.  I'm just stating that, having actually watched the video before I embedded it, it's a pretty perfect fit for the song.  Light and 'poppy' and such, while also keeping your attention through the actually passable dancing and wardrobe.  Of course, the real fun is the song which is...obviously the reason I brought it up.

The next is, I believe, the second KARA song I actually listened to, but I might be misremembering that and it really doesn't matter.  Like, even in the slightest, it doesn't matter.  What -does- matter is that I have this weird little thing with some K-Pop songs that I call the "Oh, damnit" moment.  The "Oh, damnit" moment is the exact moment where I mumble those words to myself and concede the fact that I am going to listen to this song for the rest of the night.  Very obviously, this next song has one of those moments and the exact moment is about twenty one seconds in when the synth or whatever that is starts kicking in.  Keep that in mind as you watch this video for "Pandora".

Remember that part where I said I don't really watch the videos?  Well, surprisingly enough with all of that set-up, it was a lie when it comes to this actual video.  I don't even know why beyond, well, the obvious, and it's really quite perplexing.  The song is, at least, something I enjoy a little more because it's just a little...heavier?  I suppose might be the word.  I don't want to say anything about 'depth' because I'll just make myself look silly, but there's some type of quality to the song that I just enjoy a little more than Step, and maybe I'm just not supposed to know what that is.  I will say that, again, aside from the obvious, I am a fan of the outfits and the hairstyles the girls sport in this one.  That's...probably the point, but I'm just saying that it worked this time.  Also babbling.  ....Mostly babbling.

The last song is basically the one of the three that I've listened to the most and, as with the other two, I cannot really provide reasons as to the why.  If I had to guess, I would say that it's got a goodly bit of variety in the sound itself, even if it is as repetitive as, well, most songs altogether.  The girls all show off a little bit of range, I feel, and are given an appropriate amount of time to sing their piece, as it were, so maybe that's what draws me more to this one since, even if it's present in the other songs, I notice it in this one.  Though, I should point out that I merely listen to this one, and would be remiss if I didn't point that out as well as a particularly ridiculous 'dance move' towards the end.  I won't tell you when, because you'll know and I am apologizing in advance for the silliness.  You will be happy to note that the single-word title theme has been maintained however with "Jumping", this last song.

...Well, I warned you.  Still, before that point, it's fairly acceptable and really, that's not bad so much as it's likely to make your eyes roll in a dismissive moment.  Surprisingly, I'm not so much a fan of the outfits here as I was in the other video, but, well, that's just a thing about it.  Still, as stated this is the song I've listened to the most out of the three for better or worse.  It's pretty much hard to think of different ways to present this type of feeling after two others of the same, but I'm sure you understand the sentiment at the very least.  Or maybe you're just listening to the song and don't care.  Or something along those lines.  Either way, I dig it, and that's pretty much what I was putting across here.  That goes the same for the other two songs before this one too.  Hopefully you dig it too.

really though, what was with that dance move I mean, you're not even being subtle

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Even More Indie Confusion

Brian Provinciano of Retro City Rampage fame is one of the many suspicious of Microsoft's new plan.

It seems Sony's still the only one out there getting it right in terms of Indies, though Microsoft recently announced that they're making strides in the right direction....if you believe spin at its face, that is.  Essentially, what Microsoft has announced is that Self-Publishing will be possible for games on the XBone and on top of that, every single XBone console will eventually double as a dev kit.  This would allow you to run down to the store, buy an XBone, take it home and work whatever voodoo that involves to turn it into a dev kit/debug unit.  Because it's not going to be as simple as flipping a switch and 'woooo suddenly I'm a game developer'.  Not to mention that allowing you to be able to mess with the innards of the XBone as you would anything with code and such with reckless abandon would open all sorts of unsavory doors, so there's obviously some bits that haven't been mentioned just yet.  Apparently this was supposed to be big news at Gamescom, but it just so happened to leak out beforehand.  Mysteriously.

"Suspicion" seems to be the operative word in terms of reactions among both consumers and Indie Developers alike, and it's not unwarranted, of course.  Even without Microsoft's numerous foot-in-mouth moments subsequently followed by furious back-peddling in what comes off as a desperate display of "PLEASE LOVE US", their previous attempt at the Indie Scene with XBox Live Indie Games was less-than-stellar in concept and execution.  An annual fee allowed you access to the development tools with which you could eventually create a working game for the service that was then checked by other XNA developers (I believe) for QA purposes (pretty much, I just heard Zeboyd asking/talking about "Peer Review" for the XBLIG versions of their games before release) before being unceremoniously placed into the roster next to the rest of the games similarly added without much regard to grouping or visibility.  Of course, that is kind of how these things go, things like the App Store and such that allow 'self-publishing' in this way, which is akin to "Yeah, just kind of put it out there and make sure we get our cut for storage" which is...less than ideal.

Whether or not Microsoft's plan for the XBone will be like XBLIG but 'better' or something else entirely that might actually be good has yet to be seen and will likely remain under wraps even beyond Gamescom.  It's highly doubtful this system will be able to go up and running by launch, of course, and first-hand experience is really where it's going to count, as well as how Microsoft handles the marketplace thereafter.  It -does- sound like Microsoft is making strides in that area in a sense as they previously announced that all the games will be in the 'games' section of the store, thus no "XBLA goes -here-" and "XBLIG goes over -there-", but really that was never the biggest problem.  The biggest problem with indies on the 360 was that you...basically never knew when the games went up because they went up 'whenever'.  Sony has the right of it here, I think - Games go up Tuesday, Mobile games go up Wednesday.  If you're even a little familiar with your Playstation devices and such, you know that, so you'll know to check new releases and you'll be able to find all the new games, indie or otherwise, held within.  Then they also have an Indies Section that, well, actually has visibility as well.

Something else that's curious is that Microsoft seems to be promising full compatibility of the wide spectrum of extra essentials to Indies as well.  Specifically, Mark Whitten, VP of the XBox Division had this to say:
"Our vision is that every person can be a creator. That every Xbox One can be used for development. That every game and experience can take advantage of all of the features of Xbox One and Xbox LIVE. This means self-publishing. This means Kinect, the cloud, achievements. This means great discoverability on Xbox LIVE. We'll have more details on the program and the timeline at gamescom in August."
This is new in terms of Microsoft's treatment of indies for the most part.  Even Kinect integration, something that obviously could have happened on the 360 seems new unless my googling has failed to inform me of a time when XNA developers were allowed to work with the device for 360 purposes.  Additionally, add me to the list of people who believe that you don't just get to say "the cloud" and we fucking know what you're talking about.  Does it mean cloud saves?  Cloud storage?  Cloud computation, as some XBone games are touting already even though that kind of requires internet which was something of a problem as we have discussed?  Will you be able to have some sort of cross-compatibility with Windows 8 thanks to "THE CLOUD"?  Any of this is something you could mention instead of just saying "THE CLOUD" as a thing of reverence.  Regardless, it'll be interesting to see just how many Achievements you can add to your indie game and how updating it can or cannot change that, since that's something that has been played around with quite a lot by actual developers (in terms of adding DLC which adds Achievements/Trophies to the overall list).  Actually, it'll just be interesting to see how it handles updates in general, considering some of Microsoft's difficulties with that.

Meanwhile, on the Nintendo side of the world, Nintendo has made a strange move in telling Japanese Indies to shove it.  Or, more succinctly that they're just not accepting Japanese applications for development on the Wii U, despite Nintendo's moves to make the device friendly to Indies of all types.  It's especially weird that they're not taking applications from Japan of all places, considering that's where they're based, but there are some reasons at play here that do sort of make it a little more understandable.  I don't know a lot about the Japanese Indie Scene, but I have to imagine that a good portion of it is likely Visual Novel-based, since that's really big in Japan, and I have to also imagine that a good portion of -that- is...well...not what Nintendo is looking for, I'll say.  I mean, maybe I'm wrong on that, and it's definitely possible that I -am-, and that the Japanese Indie Scene is just rife with platformers that blow Nintendo's own out of the water or something, but I'm just saying that that's possible.  Still, it's just a weird move, especially amidst all the other drama surrounding Indies.

So yeah, it's just kind of amusing to see all this going on and Sony just kind standing off to the side with the bulk of Indie Developers just looking on going "Okay".  I'm not sure what all moves they actually made in wooing the scene as heavily as they did, but it paid off with dividends and it's continuing to do so.  If nothing else, this is all at least a good exercise in realizing the importance of goodwill.  Sony's gained it massively, Microsoft pissed all theirs away and Nintendo is somewhere comfortably in the middle.  Who knows how this'll all play out when plans are actually outlined and put in place, but I wouldn't expect something of a large-scale event occurring.  It takes a lot of work to shift developers away from something, but most of the time it takes something negative to something else, so unless Sony screws the pooch at some point, they might just be around for a while.  Still, with a little competence, a little humility and a little courting, Microsoft could endear themselves back eventually.  I just don't see that happening, though.

well, something negative or truckloads of money, but

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Freedom Wars Sounds Excellent

If you haven't heard of Freedom Wars before today, it's rather understandable, given that the game has only been formally announced for Japan with a vague launch window of "2014".  However, there are some reasons as to why you should know of Freedom Wars, and the sooner that's done, the better.  Firstly, it's a Vita game, which is obviously the reason -I'm- excited about it and bringing it up as a topic for discussion.  Secondly, it's a very nice-looking Vita game, which is probably where you start to care a little.  You're probably thinking, however, "Well, It's announced only in Japan and it's a Vita game, so I guess it's not coming out over here", to which I say you didn't let me finish.  The third thing about Freedom Wars is that it's being developed by Sony Japan Studio, which means it's first-party through and through.  Which means it has a very, very high chance of being localized.  As in, it has almost no chance of not coming out over here.  Interested yet?  Thought so. (The only correct answer was yes.)

Freedom Wars was originally teased as "Panopticon" thanks to the large structures of the same name that allow humans to exist in a desolate world.  The inhabitants of them, at least some of them, are branded 'Criminals' from birth and given a million-year sentence that they're expected to work towards shaving off so that they can know, life as a free person.  I'm not quite sure how it actually works yet, but it's an interesting concept and is exactly what the game revolves around.  Your 'work' is going up against rather large monsters for different purposes, and that's what the game is set around. Of course, I'm not sure -why- beyond, shut up it's a video game, but I'm sure an in-universe explanation will come up at some point. know, when the game is released and explains it.  Or something along those lines.  That's not really important, nor is it the point, though.

In what I'm attributing as a nod to Phantasy Star Online because it fills me with glee, you'll be getting a mechanical assistant, but thankfully it's a little bit more useful than a floating robot that hangs around your shoulder and/or back.  You robot companion, an android rather, is called an "Accessory" (for some reason) and is with your character not only to provide support in these missions that you have to do, but also to monitor you and ensure you don't do anything that would -add- hours to your sentence, rather than subtract them.  From what I can tell in the trailer, they're essentially the same as your Criminal, but likely they don't have the same sentence, nor do they have aspirations of being free I assume.  They're androids, after all, but perhaps that is a striving goal, I don't know.  It's certainly not the most original approach, but it's used because it has the potential to be interesting.

Siliconera recently explained "Volunteer" missions which certainly sound pretty neat, though I hope they're only a single of many types of missions you'll be able to undertake in the game proper.  Volunteer missions are essentially divided into three sections: Sortie, Engagement and Recapture.  More appropriately, it's a Seek-and-Rescue deal, where you look for captured citizens and bring them back to the transport zone while dodging and/or temporarily disabling Abductors.  The post mentions that Abductors regenerate themselves, so it would seem that you cannot actually 'destroy' them, or at least not in Volunteer missions which is...odd, to say the least.  I'd assume you -can- destroy them at some point, which I hope is involved in another type of mission, as stated, but this sort of mission is different from what you might expect given the way Freedom Wars looks, and it's refreshing enough at least.  Besides, Seek-And-Rescue seems like an odd fit for this game if that's all it is, thus I'm believing that it's not quite.

Something that definitely stands out with Freedom Wars is the "Thorn Whip" that Criminals and their Accessories have access to.  They appear as a sort of black and red energy thing that wraps around the character's left arm and work like a grappling hook from Just Cause 2 or, more appropriately, Lost Planet.  It's something that allows you to not only climb up buildings for recon purposes, but it allows you to attach and pull yourself to the Abductors to break off parts of them while you're engaged in combat with them.  Which is something else that leads me to believe that there are other mission types, specifically along the lines of a traditional "there is a giant thing, murder the shit out of it" mission structure that you expect from a hunting game.  Or...well, most games, these days.  Not that that's bad, and indeed with Freedom Wars merging this Thorn Whip and neat looking guns and melee weapons, the battle system seems like it'll be something rather neat to witness and experience.  Certainly has caught my attention.

The game is still a ways off, of course, in that it won't be out in Japan until next year, and likely not the first part of it, but it's still a game and it still looks rather enjoyable.  For those that continue to say that Sony's Vita support is lacking (despite the wonderful work at bringing indies to the device) this isn't the ultimate comeback, but it's part of it assuredly.  When you begin to consider that there are more than likely sequels to Gravity Rush and Uncharted: Golden Abyss in the works, not to mention a God of War iteration of some fashion at the least, the picture becomes that much better.  And really, that's just some of the things that we know about.  There are assuredly other things in the works (Soul Sacrifice 2, please, not like I have to really -ask- for that) so this just comes across as an affirmation of that.  Remember that the deluge of Nintendo first-party support for the 3DS didn't start until this year, really, and also make a note that not a whole lot of it has been new, where the Vita has seen at least three other brand-new retail IPs born on the device in first and second-party hands.  So take heed and take heart, because the Vita's nowhere near as bad-off as the internet likes to say it is.

basically this game looks awesome and other games on the Vita look awesome because the Vita has awesome games

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review - Animal Crossing: New Leaf

The Roost Cafe; truly something to celebrate.

It's an odd thought, trying to review a game that is, by its own design, endless, but it's something that can be done, and more than that, it's simply something I want to do.  At various points before and after its release, I mentioned being in various states of excitement for it and its new additions to the series, some good, some bad, but the fact remains is that not only was I excited enough to get it, but I was excited enough to get a bundle specifically of it, rather than waiting on my must-have title, Rune Factory 4 and seeing if there was something better by then.  That I wanted the game by this method that much means that it was a game that I wanted because of what it promised to be, and more importantly, what it promised not to be - which was just the previous Animal Crossing games over again.  A review then is not only the best measure to say whether or not they actually managed that, but also if they created a game to be excited for.

One thing that remains relatively unchanged is the controls of the game which is not a bad thing.  Animal Crossing has never been an overly complicated game to play, though to ever call it stream-lined would be stretching the truth a bit, if not a lot.  Improvements have been made here and there:  The D-Pad allows you to cycle through your tools without bringing up the inventory screen as previous installments (except for City Folk, I believe, where it was an actual legitimate new feature) and both shoulder buttons can be used for sprinting/text speeding, negating the accidental "No, I don't want to do your easy errand that will score me major points with you" moment with the villagers.  Additionally, both shoulder buttons pressed -together- allows you to take a screenshot of the scene as it is, which is a feature that absolutely every game should have in some form.  Admittedly, this is more just me speaking from my extended time with the Vita, where the screenshot feature is in almost every native-Vita game (Resistance:  Burning Skies is the sole exception I know of), but that exposure has also shown me how great a feature it is, and it's sorely missed when it's not around.

There have also been some very mild Quality-of-Life upgrades that have been made in New Leaf which are appreciated, even if they're not quite numerous.  For one, you can stack common fruit in your inventory now in baskets for up to 9 fruits per basket.  It helps a bit even if 9 is still a bit limiting, all things considered (given that there are at least 12 types of fruit in the game and it's wise to have all of them in your city thanks to 11 of the types, as in all but your native type, sell for a decently high price every time you have them.  Simultaneous harvests means big, big bells) but it's at least a step in the right direction.  You can now also swim around, provided you have the right equipment (a Wet Suit, which can be loaned at a specific area and later bought at the same area, provided you go on a day where it's for sale) which is...not exactly useful for anything, given that your swimming area is rather limited, but it's neat nonetheless and allowed them to add a lot of deep-sea/seafloor finds to the game for you to find, catalog and donate or sell if you're so inclined.

Housing has also been tweaked for the better for the most part, which is definitely something to appreciate.  First off, every player you have (up to four players, I believe) gets their own house rather than just a bed in your attic which is huge and it also brings the validity of having a secondary character into the light as something you might want for reasons I'll expound on later.  Houses can also have a total of six rooms now - Main floor, three side rooms from the main floor, a basement and an upstairs - all of which can be decorated and eventually become 8x8 rooms which is roomy but comes just short of feeling truly...expansive.  Space is extraordinarily precious in Animal Crossing games, so while six 8x8 rooms sounds like a lot of space, it's really -not- considering the ridiculous amount of money you have to spend to get to that point, as well as how much dead space there has to be just so you can get around in said rooms.  One of the nicer things about the game, however, is that you can now customize the exterior of your house as well - the roof, siding/faƧade, mailbox, fencing and bricks under the building itself - which allows you to truly make your home your own, or at least more your own than previous iterations.

The most wasteful walk-in closet you've ever seen.

Returning fans of Animal Crossing games will probably not be surprised to know that the old enemy, Storage Space, is still around in full-force, perhaps even moreso than previously.  Animal Crossing games like to boast of having thousands of things to collect and whatnot, and it's the definite truth, but actually collecting is something of a pain considering you have a very limiting amount of space to do said collecting with.  To bore you with a bit of math for a moment, each character has access to a single area of storage that's linked between every storage option you have (dressers, cabinets, etc.) and it has a total space allotment of 180 bubbles (three sections labelled A, B and C, ten bubbles a page for six pages of each section, thus six times ten times three equals one-hundred eighty).  Every piece of anything - clothing, furniture, art, insects, fish, tools, etc. - takes up a single bubble.  So you might think it doesn't actually sound bad, but this is where things start getting bad, because you start considering just everything you might want to keep on hand.

Another Quality of Life upgrade that has been received in the meanwhile between games is that everyone actually has legs now, rather than bodies that end in stubby little feet.  Thus, pants and socks are now a clothing option.  At any given point in time you can have up to six articles of clothing on:  Hats/Helmets, Face Accessory like Glasses or such, a shirt, pants, socks and shoes.  If you have just three 'outfits' that you like, that's eighteen bubbles right there, but if you're smart (i.e. you read a guide and know that you -need- outfits of specific types) then you are going to have a lot of spare pieces if not separate outfits altogether specifically for that one-day-only event, meaning you need to have them before it happens (and you have no way of knowing beforehand) or else you're out of luck unless your stores are selling them.  So you can very easily fill a single section with just clothing items and still want for space (as you see in the above, I want for space for clothing items).

Then consider furniture options and realize that furniture comes in sets.  Sets can have upwards of eleven or so items in them including flooring and wallpaper.  You can have a maximum of six rooms in your house.  If you have a back-up set for each room in your house (considering you...might actually get bored of your furniture which is a given that might happen and probably will), that's sixty-six bubbles, or more than a single section in your storage.  This is, of course, considering that you're only keeping items from the sets that you actively want (you're not) instead of keeping things that you think are also just cool that you might like to decorate with someday if the mood strikes you.  This is especially so for the Nintendo-themed items you can get through the fortune cookies at the Nooklings store, because I defy anyone who has even a little bit of love for Nintendo to receive a Master Sword decoration and not want to keep it, if not actively display it.  So basically, you're going to have a lot of furniture because a lot of it, if not most of it, is attractive in the right light and unless you know specifically what you want, and sell absolutely everything else, you're going to have a bit of it hanging around.

Of course, you don't have to keep everything on-hand and some argue actively that you shouldn't thanks to the Cataloging option in the game.  You see, if you ever lay hands on a piece of anything and it's saved safely (meaning you don't lose a connection to someone else, exit suddenly without saving or something else) then it's available in a catalog from then on out that you can order from, allowing you to receive items in it the following day.  The caveat of this is that not only are some things not available through the catalog for purchase (a lot, really), but you pay full-retail for them every time you order them.  Full-retail is, obviously, not something you get for selling an item unless you put it up in a Flea Market spot and get lucky (sometimes you can even make a profit off an item, of course) so the answer is pretty obvious - hold onto things you might want or that you know others might want so you don't have to spend extra bells and wait a day for the items.  This brings us full-circle with the original storage complaint, though, so it's a bit strange.

This time around, you can also mitigate the storage concerns with Museum exhibits, should you chose to bastardize the point of having them available at all.  Eventually you can fund a second floor to the museum that brings with it four exhibit rooms, 8x8 spaces that you can rent out and decorate however you wish.  Decorate can mean "throw everything on the floor to take up the maximum amount of space allotted (64 spaces) just because" if you so choose it to mean that, and while I -have- done that with two rooms, it's...just a waste.  My furniture room (appropriately dubbed "The Warehouse") comprises solely of items I've shaken out of trees and received from villagers that I intend to sell through the Flea Market for full-retail rather than a pittance, but given that there are two items in trees everyday, and villagers can be...generous sometimes, compounded with the fact that ReTail only has eight Flea Market spaces (and I'm lucky to clear two a day), it becomes obvious why I have a lot of overspill.  My defense for this is simple: For a full house, you need somewhere around Six Million Bells, which doesn't count anything else whatsoever and goddamnit, I am going to wring every single goddamn bell out of everything I have.

Everything above is simply bandages applied to a problem that has another cure altogether, however.  Put simply:  It's 2013 and this is the 3DS, so are the restrictions even necessary?  The 3DS isn't overflowing with power, but it's not exactly running two gens ago either so -some- upgrades in that area could have been made.  You're still stuck with an inventory of only sixteen bubbles (and three of those are going to be full of tools, specifically the shovel, fishing rod and net at least, but you're gonna want the other tools too) for some reason, as well as the mentioned 180 storage bubbles (I'm not sure off-hand how this stacks up against previous versions, but I'm assuming it's about the same) and it just seems arbitrary.  It also becomes near-infuriating when you realize that fruit doesn't stack automatically nor do bells stack or even go right into your money spot right away (neither of these make any sense) and you have to see the "Oh no! My Pockets are full!  Should I swap this with something?" message over and over and over again because you don't have enough pocket space goddamnit and I have to simply wonder at the why behind it.  The easy answer is likely the online stuff, but even then....I'm not quite sure.

Pictured:  Apparently what spaces are.  Not Pictured:  ANY HELPFUL VISUAL CLUES WHATSOEVER.

Space in the context of infuriating lack of forethought comes in another flavor as well, one that I have already covered in some detail, but will nonetheless talk of here as well now that I have a little more experience with it, though not necessarily more knowledge on it.  One of the bigger things in New Leaf is the fact that you're the Mayor of your town, and being Mayor allows you to populate your town with things like benches and fountains and a Sphinx or a Lighthouse or a Police Station or a Streetlight, all of which are just considered the same thing in terms of the -how- you place them down.  Which is taking a lovely stroll around with Isabelle, your faithful secretary, unto you find a spot that you think might look good for whatever you have in mind to put down.  Most of the time, Isabelle will simply tell you that it's too close to something else (Because it's almost always too close to something), but she'll also inform you of how many spaces you need for whatever the project at hand is.  Pictured above is a 2x3 plot of land (apparently two spaces to the left and right and three spaces back means that instead of...more than two spaces across.  Am I the only person who reads it that way?) which is all well and fine, but if you'll also note, there's also no..grid or anything visually helpful in the picture.  This is not different when you actively seeking a spot for placement.  This is something of a problem, I'm sure you can imagine.

Something else that makes it difficult is that I'm not quite sure where the thing is placed in relation to where you stood when you addressed Isabelle.  The obvious answer seems to be that you were dead in the center of it, but when you're talking square spaces (as I can only assume we are), dead-center of a 2x3 grid is...something that I'm not quite sure how it works.  While I haven't tested it, one solution would likely be plotting out a grid with flowers (assuming flowers only inhabit a single space), digging holes around them as a barrier (equally assuming holes are a single space), pulling up the flowers (to be placed elsewhere) and then pulling Isabelle into that cordoned-off area while managing to get right in where you want and hoping that she doesn't say it's too close to "something else", which in this case means the goddamn holes you dug to try and mitigate this problem.  Knowing how this game operates, this type of thing wouldn't surprise me in the least.  This does eventually lead to simply haphazardly throwing down whatever projects where ever they'll fit with the least amount of effort, rather than at specifically desired locations, which seems a bit counter to the point.

Regardless in the quibbles of the placement and execution of getting it funded and the like, being able to throw down these things in your town is impossibly cool, and does add a lot to the experience, quite frankly.  People with longer attention spans than my own, patience and the ability to plan things with no frame of reference have been able to make some lovely looking towns, and I've even heard tell of 'theme' towns, in which you can go and see a town that plays out with a certain storyline in mind, which just baffles me in a good way.  Even barring that, it basically ensures that no town, even with the same basic layout, will be the same in practice, which is something truly astounding.  The more free-form structure to building placement in general helps with this, of course (previous games had certain 'spots' where villager houses could be located, and nowhere else), but nothing says individuality potential like the ability to throw down a Police Station near a Geyser that's near a Zen Clock.

The buildings go beyond simply what you have in your town, however, thanks to the Main Street shopping district located just beyond the tracks at the top of your town.  The starting locales include a single-floor museum, Nook's Housing store, the post office, the Nooklings store and the Abel Sisters complex.  Eventually as the game progresses, you'll implement a Dream Theater (if only because it's a source of 5,000 bells a day), a second floor to the Museum (covered above), a Nightclub where K.K. Slider DJs and does acoustic sets every Saturday night, better classes of Nookling Stores, a Garden Center, Shampoodle's and a Shoe/Sock store at least.  It's really quite enjoyable to see how malleable and dynamic the Main Street actually is.  It's also an appropriate measure of progress that.....could be argued is present elsewhere (mostly public works projects and your house) but is nonetheless what I judge on.

My secondary character, Dinah, knows how to make a good cup o' joe.

Thankfully, there are a few new bits in New Leaf that offer new kinds of gameplay to shake up the norm when you finally have access to them.  My favorite by far, considering I have a disproportionate like for the Cafe' than I should, is actually getting to -work- at the Cafe', serving up to-go cups of coffee to patrons from your town and elsewhere in the world.  It's strange, being excited to work in a game that's....not about reality at all in that form, but it's refreshing and enjoyable all on its own.  It's a simple mini-game to be sure; three patrons enter one after another and order a cup to their specifications, though you won't always know what -all- the specifications are.  There are four types of coffee beans, four levels of milk and four levels of sugar, and your goal is to, obviously, hit the optimal range for that villager's tastes.  Some folks walk in and order "the usual" and considering there are some 300 villagers in the whole of Animal Crossing, it's...hard to remember everyone's favorite.  Luckily, there's a handy list on the internet that tells for them, but also the 'special' characters (like Tom Nook, K.K. Slider, etc.) who are often a bit pickier. (Normal townies generally want the same amount of milk and sugar, so if you know one, you know the other and that just leaves the question of blend.)

The other heavily advertised feature of the game was the Island Resort that you get access to after Tortimer (the former Mayor) visits and tells you that you'll have a boat waiting for you whenever you wanna head over.  The Island is a good source of income, considering it plays host to various rare beetles when the sun sets (all year-round, even), but the main attraction it -wants- you to visit for is the "Tours" which are just mini-games to play by yourself or with friends for Medals, the currency accepted on the Island.  If there's an activity in Animal Crossing, there's probably a tour for it.  Navigating a large maze to find particular bits of fruit, beating up a rolling robot with a hammer, fishing and catching bugs (either specific types or just 'a lot'), digging up matching furniture, fossils or gyroids and my personal favorite, the Scavenger Hunt.  In the Scavenger Hunt, you're given a list of four things to find and placed in a map with randomly generated buildings.  You have to rush in, find items from the list in the houses (the difficulty places more and more of the same type/set of item in the buildings, meaning higher difficulties requires you to be particularly discerning) and take them back to Tortimer before time elapses.

The thing is, both of those things I just made mention of are not things that you're going to do every day, multiple times a day, or if they are then they're not particularly involving or long so you're just kicking around in a new situation for five or ten minutes before it becomes old news officially.  None of it re-invents the wheel, so to speak, nor does it invigorate the game beyond its roots of previous Animal Crossing games.  You can dress it up however much you want, with whatever new things that you want, which New Leaf tried, but unless you really dig in and insert something new with force, all it is is window dressings.  Not only are the additions to New Leaf just that, window dressings, but there are still ridiculous Quality of Life changes that still have not been made, perhaps in lieu of a set of furniture made of gingerbread.  New Leaf should have been the biggest, best Animal Crossing game so far, but it only managed half of that.  I'm not surprised, but I am still disappointed.

The Good
  • Stacking Fruit is a very nice Quality of Life upgrade
  • As is the D-Pad Tool switching
  • The Roost Cafe' is so nice and the mini-game offered by it is fun, if simple
  • Secondary Characters have their own houses now, rather than just a bed in your shared attic space
  • Actually being able to add things to your town in a tangible fashion makes for good things
  • The Flea Market allows you to make some good bank and offers some enjoyment from it
  • Taking Screenshots is always nice, all games should have it
  • Being Mayor is a neat feeling, even if it doesn't mean much mechanically
  • It's still Animal Crossing at its core
The Bad
  • Fruit and Bells not automatically stacking is a ridiculous oversight
  • Storage space is needlessly limited, and the Catalog isn't the best answer to that
  • Still a general lack of things to do, depending on what times of day you desire to play the game
  • Placing Public Works Projects is an exercise in frustration at best
  • Bells are entirely too scarce considering you need Six Million+ to renovate your house fully, -plus- fund the PWPs you want
  • The only way to get new things to build (and single-handedly pay for) is by waiting for Villagers to randomly suggest them....meaning it takes a while before you get a new option, and it's likely not one you want
  • Honestly, just -too many things- in New Leaf are random, from the days when someone special might visit (and then don't a lot of times, such as Crazy Redd skipping a week) to what they offer when they do visit (such as Crazy Redd selling three fake paintings and the one you just bought last week goddamnit)
  • Being Mayor doesn't mean much mechanically, and instead is just a neat feeling
  • It's still Animal Crossing at its core
Mogs Says
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is Animal Crossing: City Folk with new stuff which is Animal Crossing: Wild World with new stuff, which is a fairly big departure, for better or worse, from Animal Crossing.  The series has not been re-invented or re-invigorated, despite what you might have thought or what might have been stated to suggest as such.  It's still a fun game, of course, and one that you'll find yourself playing because you want to, and not necessarily because you feel you -have to- out of some sort of responsibility for the town (which admittedly goes to hell without you around).  Still, each iteration is another chance to add a whole new level to the series as it is, and New Leaf simply didn't do that.  I'm not even sure that they honestly tried, but at least there are a few new toys to play around with in the same old sandbox we've come to know and enjoy.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Developers/Publishers Aren't as Smart as You Think They Are

If you pay attention to release announcements, like yesterday's Strider announcement, you tend to see two things that are almost always left out:  Wii U and Vita.  The 3DS misses a lot as well, but that's...kind of a different beast in that the 3DS is likely the weakest machine out there at the moment.  Which isn't a knock against it, it's just that it's fairly impossible to get some games to fit within its confines.  Watch_Dogs, for instance, simply wouldn't go on the device in the same form as it could go on the PS3, the Wii U or anything else.  It's not an unfair statement to make, is my point.  Regardless, that they're -not- on the Wii U or the Vita is always something of an anomaly, given that both platforms can more than likely stomach the game you're trying to hand out, especially if it's on the PS3 and possibly PC, given that it's been said it's an easy port from the former, and I imagine a lot of the PC Indies have found it rather simple to get their game on the Vita, and I've yet to hear of a screaming technical error from any game yet.

Whenever a question is posed, "Why isn't this game on the Wii U/Vita", someone will always (usually in a snarky fashion) state it's "Because those systems don't have anyone buying them."  Okay, so then the question becomes "Why isn't anyone buying them?" (by the way, people are buying them, obviously) and the answer is then, still snarkily, "Because they have no games."  Well, yes, they do have games, but okay, not quite as many as the other systems that have been around for seven years (or almost three for the 3DS), so yes, totally fair.  Totally.  Still, this is a lead-in question as well - "Why do they have no games?"  "Because they don't sell any systems."


So the way to get a system to sell is for it to already have a fantastic library of games on it already?  Games made for it, I assume is the qualifier, since, you know, the Wii U has the Wii library (of which I'm told has a few gems) and the Vita has a good percentage of the PSP library which has quite a fantastic line-up as well.  Regardless, I'm sure you can all see the logical inconsistency here.  I have faith in you all, you're smart people.

However, the answer to that is that it's simply 'unprofitable', and in today's environment, 'unprofitable' means 'doomed', either in the over-reactive presumptuous way, or the....actual, literal way, which is a fairly sad state of affairs.  That fault lies nowhere but on the developers and publishers for creating the environment to begin with.  We didn't force them to make grandiose teams of developers to work on possibly out-of-this-world-great games or potential over-polished garbage (or, hell, even under-polished garbage as we have seen), certainly.  We assisted in fostering it by buying the games, one could argue, but what are we going to do, not buy games because their developers/publishers were fiscally irresponsible in making them?  Of course not because that's silly.

The harsh truth is simply that you're going to have to eat a loss at some point.  Sorry, but that's just the truth of it.  You have to get games onto a platform to inspire purchases of it so you can put more games on it and eventually recoup from not only late purchases of that original game, but people who have finally picked up the console for the games who are grabbing yours up.  That's simply how it works.  Don't pretend the PS4 and the XBone are anomalies in this, considering the success both consoles seem to be having not only in pre-orders, but game announcements.  Think back on the announced lists and try to present a game that's 1.) Third-Party and 2.) Not also coming out for PS3/360 as a fall-back, ensuring that the PS4/XBone version is just an up-port.  Or perhaps a lateral port of the PC version.  I mean, go ahead, I'll wait, I'm pretty sure you're not going to find a lot.  (I'm gonna cut you off and go out on a limb here and suggest that Sunset Overdrive is a Second-Party thing, like Resistance for Sony has been.)

So it's not even as if they're giving the PS4/XBone 'proper' focus, either.  It's going to be up/side ports for a long time while Sony and Microsoft struggle to keep their First and Second parties making the system enticing enough for you to deem it worthy of a purchase if you're not sold on it already.  Neither of them will have very much trouble in this, of course - Sony has been working very hard at making the PS4 attractive from every angle and have succeeded almost uniformly, while Microsoft has gained back a lot of goodwill from the 180, specifically from the people who went "Well, I -want- Halo, but I don't want bullshit" since said bullshit is (possibly) gone.  The mandatory Kinect isn't near enough of a deal-breaker for most people (unless its requirement requires some funky layouts and/or won't allow a person to simply turn it around to keep the camera off of them, as they'd rather not deal with it) and you simply cannot fault Sony for much at this point, in terms of the PS4 itself.

Still, this is playing both sides of the fence, and eventually somebody is going to lose out on that end.  You're going to need other sources of revenue than the Large McHuge Super-AAA havens that people make the PS4/XBone out to be (as they made the PS3/360 out to be) and the time to get in on this is now.  Or rather, it was half a year ago at least, but you can still get in on it.  You especially want to jump in on Vita development, since the parity between the PS4 and the Vita is going to put the device in a lot of hands, and if it's there, people will buy your games.  Nintendo is probably going to get their act together on displaying the Wii U as a device that you want for reasons as well (if we know Nintendo, part of it'll likely be a price cut right around November to 'devalue' the PS4/XBone out of the gate), and to continue to ignore them isn't going to do you any favors.  People -will- play non-Nintendo First-Party games on a Wii U if you give them to us, it's just in your court to make that leap.  Since you're just hurting yourselves by not making the effort everywhere you could be focusing.

the cyclical bullshit is just so damn annoying

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Open-World is Here to Stay for Ubisoft

Still never gets old.  It is about the only thing that doesn't.

Ubisoft's CEO recently stated that Ubisoft needs to release open-world games on a regular basis to keep on like they have been.  And by 'needs to', he basically means "This is what we're going to do, so just, you know, keep that in mind".  It's not really a surprise, considering Ubisoft has...pretty much only been putting out Open-Worlds from everything that springs to memory, and everything currently announced for them is similarly open, but it's something different altogether when it's just stated as such.  And it pretty much all just comes down to whether or not you actually like Open-Worlds on whether or not this is good news.  Personally?  I'm okay with this.  If it wasn't for the Assassin's Creed games, I would be ecstatic with this, and therein lies a type of distinction.

I don't quite think anyone has sufficiently nailed down what makes an open-world game 'great' even still, after all this time that it's been popular.  I know it was around before them, but you could argue heavily in favor of stating that it was the Elder Scrolls games (specifically Morrowind) and Grand Theft Auto 3 that -really- kicked the Open-World sandbox scene into everyone's eyes.  It's not without reason, however, as both of those games were never, ever at a lack of things to do.  With Morrowind, that was almost literal given how much content is actually crammed within its confines, but with GTA 3, I think the bulk of it was being most people's first exposure to the type.  A large part of it was the freedom it offered, but also how that freedom espoused with a type of 'role-playing' part of ours brains that took the Claude we were playing as and made him -our- Claude.  Though, it's hard to think, now, that any of us did anything rather 'unique' with 'our' Claude, given the limitations of the map at that point.

For instance, 'my' Claude, on several occasions simply had enough of people and would take a sniper rifle on the top of the strip club to take out as many of the annoying jerks in the city as he could before anyone finally realized what he was doing and from where.  When the authorities arrived in force, it was always a new game to see if he could bolt from the alleyway, hop into a car and make it to the nearby Pay-and-Spray without being witnessed so he could make a clean escape.  He...barely ever did.  It's hard to imagine now that 'my' Claude was the only one to do that, and I don't suspect he was, but it certainly -felt- a little more like you were 'owning' the character you were given to play around with.

San Andreas, I think, brought us the pinnacle of that type of 'ownership' that the series has seen with CJ.  He was customizable enough to make your own, yet he was static enough that he was -always- CJ, just that he was your CJ on top of that.  You as the player could decide if your CJ was going to be out-of-shape from his frequent excursions to Cluckin' Bell, or fit and imposing from a daily trip to the gym.  You could decide what kind of melee techniques he could use.  You could decide what kind of a dresser he was, and whether it was his goal to impress the ladies or not.  You could decide if he was really good with a car, a motorcycle, or just -anything- with a steering mechanism.  There are innumerable other ways I could expound on this further, but I think you get the point by now.

That kind of ownership is exactly the reason why I am slightly mixed on this announcement, considering it's Ubisoft.  On the one hand, Far Cry 3 absolutely nailed this to the damn wall, given that it's so chock full of things that doing a simple thing like getting from Point A to Point B can become some kind of wonderful journey if you're in the mind of 'role-playing' akin to simply the type that my GTA 3 point mentioned.  Which, clearly I can be.  It's staggering just how dynamic and lush and alive Far Cry 3's world manages to be, and how smartly the developers created some of the gameplay mechanics around that.  It's not perfect, of course (If simply because hunting becomes unnecessary after you've crafted everything, when hunting was damn fun) but it came really, really close.  Close enough that it ignited a type of verve for Open-World games that I've never had before.

Assassin's Creed, on the other hand, has always been disappointing to me as an Open-World game specifically for that reason.  I have never felt attached to my character in an AC game.  I have never approached a situation -my- way, but rather simply the 'easiest' way.  I have never felt like my AC experience was a unique one, even though it might have been.  I'm not sure how many people went bare-handed at every opportunity simply to counter, steal weapon and kill, or constantly used heavy axes as projectile weapons because it was fucking fun, but I have to assume the number is up there.  There's simply not enough diversity in any given AC game to make it 'yours'.  It was always just a large map sprinkled with 'content' which is a big distinction to make.

Still, it's weird to point at this game and that and say "That got it right" and "That didn't" because not only is it an opinion, obviously, but it's based less on what it did on paper, but how it felt while you were playing it.  Gravity Rush, while being a fantastic game, didn't feel like an open world game because there was next to nothing to do other than flying around (which was admittedly so fun).  On the other hand, inFamous 2 similarly didn't have -tons- of content, but it didn't feel empty if only because the actual getting around was sort of a meta-game in itself because the ease of movement was so astounding.  Dragon's Dogma is astoundingly good at giving you a wide world to explore at your leisure, but still manages to keep you into level-specific areas for the most part by way of rather large, imposing battles awaiting you in other portions of the land; it's cautionary, not mandatory.  There are all sorts of qualifiers, but none of them are tangible enough to throw down as 'necessary' or something that will improve the experience by simply being in it.

That's all why I'm simply okay with the knowledge that Ubisoft is going Open-World from here on out (aside from things that they're just publishing).  They've shown that they have the capability of putting out something like Far Cry 3, but Assassin's Creed is their bread-and-butter franchise.  Watch_Dogs looks like closer to the latter than the former in terms of Ubisoft games, but if it's truly on the level of a Grand Theft Auto title, then that would similarly be fantastic.  I just have to question whether or not I wholeheartedly believe that they can pull it off.  I'm simply not sure that I can, but it's obvious why I have a little bit of hope for that type of outcome, too.

so I just sort of realized that I really like Open-World games, imagine that

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Forza 5 Shipping as an Unfinished Game

Note the title of this post.  Now note the title of the Joystiq post I'm sourcing primarily: "Forza 5 has a mandatory day one download".  Now note the title of the IGN post they sourced from: "Forza Motorsport 5 Requires One-Time Internet Connection".  Hell, look at the title of Eurogamer's post about the topic: "Forza 5 mandatory day one download adds Drivatars for offline play".  Now marvel in wonder in disappointment when friggin' Kotaku of all places manages to title a post the correct way to deliver the message from this Forza 5 news: "Forza 5 Isn't All On The Disc".

It's hard to make it really clear what I'm talking about without giving you the source material, so let's do that.
“So when you first boot up the game, we’re going to ask you to log in,” he explained. “And when you log in you’re going to get the Drivatars and you’re also going to get a whole bunch of content: tracks and cars. Our production schedule is such that we are putting them in as late as possible and that means making them free as downloadable content on Day One.

“[But] that is required content to play the game. We basically have designed the game to work with all that content no matter how late is coming in, in order to make the biggest game possible.”

After that, Greenawalt said, Forza 5 is like your refrigerator. “You have to fill it up with food the first time,” he explained. “And from then on, you connect whenever you want when you want to update your food. The Drivatars are as fresh as they are. It’s not like they’re going to degrade, but when you’re looking for new stuff – fresh stuff…it’s going to keep evolving. That’s the nature of this Drivatar system.”

“You do have to connect the game in order to get the latest Drivatars, because we need as many people training them as possible. And so rather than having just a launch-day set that was created by us, every day that people race is going to make the Drivatar set that much more accurate, that much more diverse, that much more interesting.

“All of the cloud and online features make the game far, far better,” Greenawalt summed up. “In fact I’d even say revolutionary. The things we’re doing with opponents and Drivatar are not something that anyone can envision unless you’ve played it. But we’re trying to get as much of that into the unconnected, offline mode as well.

“We’re not making a launch game. We’re making Forza 5, at launch.”
I cut out as much of the editorializing and whatnot as I could to simply give you the quotes from the post, since I provided the links anyway, and that should allow you to read the rest if you so desire.  But, I mean, the whole point of this post -is- to give you the whole picture on the issue, of course, so it may not be necessary.  Also, note the spin in place that has spurned a lot of misinformation about just what's going on here.  It's quite well done, of course, but it's annoying in how well it's seemed to work, given the comments from those particular sites from people asking for clarification and people touting misinformation with a "This is not news" tagline.  There are also people simply misinterpreting the news pretty clearly to push their own agenda, with the overall response pointing to this not being something to be outraged about despite all the obvious merits of it.  So I'm going to make it easy.

If you throw down $60 (or however much) on Forza 5 inside the confines of a store, walk out with a case that holds a disc of the game, go home, put that disc in the XBone and you cannot, for whatever reason, download the Day-One Download?  You cannot play the game.  The reason for this is that the full game is not printed on the disc.  It is that simple, and it's definitely a first.  A bad first at that.

How is this possible?  Well, it's explained quite clearly in the above if you read it correctly.  When the discs are going to start being printed, Forza 5 will not be a complete, finished game.  So they're printing what's going to be done of it and then working on it up until the days prior to the game launch, (hopefully) submitting it to QA and then letting the rest of the game go up on XBox Live for you to download on Day One.  The same day when, you know, a million other people are going to be downloading that data and the XBone's mandatory day one firmware update.  This is not a recipe for disaster on its face or anything, not to mention the undercurrent of it.  Regardless, it's something that needs stating and I cannot stress this enough:  THIS IS NOT A PATCHTHIS IS NOT AN UPDATE.  It's astounding that that one point is not clear, because I'm sure if it was a little more clear, people wouldn't be so understanding of it.

Or maybe they would be, I don't know.  People arguing for this are basically throwing every point that we rallied against the XBone for to make this acceptable and the disparity between people arguing for and against it is much, much closer than it was for the XBone's policies.  "If you're buying the XBone, you have to have internet for the day one firmware anyway, so this isn't a big deal." "People barely play Forza offline anyway." "If you're complaining about this, you're using the internet, so you have no room to complain." and the old-standby "If you can't afford the internet, you shouldn't be buying a $500 entertainment machine." are all thrown around, I assume unironically, and it just makes my head hurt because I start questioning whether or not I'm being unreasonable.

I'm not.  If you're selling a game on a disc, the game should be on the disc.  Full Stop.

It doesn't matter if the "Drivatars" basically requires the internet to fulfill their promises and were what Forza 5 was seemingly built around because Forza 5 still claims to have an off-line singleplayer portion to it.  It doesn't matter that they're "using every bit of time up to launch to make it the biggest game it could be".  It doesn't even matter if the download isn't going to be all that big (though it's certainly going to be).  Doing this kind of thing is bullshit, and defending it on any level basically tells everyone that you're in the "Fuck you, got mines" camp which is truly not the place you want to be.  You're willfully ignoring that a Disc is supposed to -be- the game, not merely a pass to play it as the original XBone would have made it.

So, sorry all you people wondering why this is news.  It's because it is news, no matter how much you want to plug your ears and go "La La La" until it passes.  If it's an isolated incident, then that's just a blip on the radar, but if it starts a trend of "Fuck worrying about finishing the game on time" rather than responsibly delaying a game you can't finish, then that's going to be no better than what we were expecting with the original XBone, if not worse.  All it takes is one company trying to mimic this and then not managing to actually finish the game before the release date because....well, it's a gamble.  You're betting you'll be done with a goodly bit of time left for QA and some companies out there simply aren't good with time management.  Hence the myriad of delays you see games get almost every day.  Hopefully, this'll be the last time we hear of news like this.

I get that more people are going to buy an XBone now that it's not completely abhorrent, but you don't have to blindly defend it from actual criticism

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Look Ahead - Soul Saga

Now that Soul Saga has been over-funded by three times the original pledge with the Kickstarter closed, I believe it's time to really start talking about it, since this is something you'll want to look forward to.  In the interest of full disclosure, the main reason this game is on my radar is because it will be available on Vita (and PS4, Wii U, PC, Mac and Linux) a year from now when it's finished (barring delays) and it looks really, really neat.  Originally, I'd heard the intention was simply those minus the PS4 and Vita (likely because the former hadn't been formally shown off yet, nor extrapolated on, both of which we saw happen at E3 and thereafter) and none of those play options were open to me.  So, admittedly, I just sort of passed on it which is obviously a bit selfish, but it's simply because there are just so many games, you guys.  I'm sure you realize.

If you're not quite sure what Soul Saga is, because you equally haven't been paying attention prior to this point, then it's a game that bills itself as a JRPG that's been inspired by some of the classics we remember growing up like Breath of Fire, Suikoden and of course, Final Fantasy, though there are some other RPGs that it draws from which I will get into in a bit.  It starts a bit familiarly; the main character, Mithos, is a young man following in the footsteps of his loathsome (from Mithos' perspective, at least) father in becoming a Guild Leader with the ultimate goal of succeeding where his father apparently failed.  Of course, just getting to that point will take some doing as being a Guild Leader obviously isn't a walk in the park.  However, it's through this that a bulk of the rather neat gameplay mechanics come into play, which is why I wanted to point it out beforehand.

I have held off long enough, so I want to get to one of the things that made me -really- excited about the game.  The world of Soul Saga is one made up of Sky Islands that rest upon a reef of clouds, shielding them from the harsh surface world below.  Being that they are -islands- in the -sky-, there's obviously only one way to get around - by airship.  Thanks to some of the stretch goals, the developer is going to be able to implement a Skies of Arcadia-styled Airship Exploration and Airship combat system which is amazing.  I would say that that element was one of the better parts of Skies of Arcadia, but that would be lying because -all- of the parts of SoA were good parts.  The Airship Exploration/Combat is merely something that made SoA stand out from the rest of the JRPG fare at the time and with good reason - not only was it different, but it was so good.  If SS's attempt is even half as good, it's going to be worth the game alone - something that I'm not saying as hyperbole.

Really, all of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter were for love letter-type things like that to older RPGs.  After you got by the basics of funding the game itself, Voice Acting and Wii U/PS4/Vita ports, it begins.  The Airship and combat stuff, I covered as Skies of Arcadia, just now.  The Job Board is something you're all familiar with - side quests to keep you occupied in the form of villager requests and the like, all posted to a central location.  Legendary Weapons is a standard as well, though more celebrated in Final Fantasy than anything I can think of - remember getting the Ultima Weapon for Cloud in FF7, or dodging 200 lightning bolts in FFX for Lulu's best doll weapon?  Yeah, it's like that, only they have their own storylines attached, so it's probably more involved than "Beat big optional boss". 

The Guild Master and Guild Hall areas are where we start delving heavily into Suikoden territory, (Technically Skies of Arcadia as well) in that the former has you scour the land for potential guild members and entice them to join you at your HQ.  The latter then allows you to have these guild members actually -do- things, provided they're not in the party (I assume, if they can even -be- in the party) giving things a sense of life that exists beyond when you're there.  Basically, it enters a bit of management into the game, which just isn't done enough, honestly, and has only met with limited success recently (what comes in my head first is the...questionable attempts by the Assassin's Creed games - send person out, wait, they might win, get reward is hardly exciting or worth bothering with), but can be a genuinely good mechanic.  One of the other stretch goals that was met, Guild Battles, also sounds to scratch the Suikoden itch, sounding to me like the War battles that the series introduced and ran with that were quite different and quite enjoyable.  There's still a few more Stretch goals that I didn't explain, some because they weren't funded (Though Garen's Saga is going to happen even though it didn't reach that total before the funding date) or because I'm just not sure what to think of them (like the Pandora's Boxes, which sound interesting and different), and if you're interested the full list is here with fairly detailed descriptions.

Mechanically, the game just sounds outstanding - a mesh of all the best parts of the best RPGs of the past, which seems to be a popular goal of late and an admirable one to go after.  After all, these neat little parts are -why- those series were beloved, even if it didn't get them the big sales numbers that were just hard to come by back then.  The development cycle of the game is something I'll be looking after with quite a bit of interest, since I can guarantee you that fifteen of my dollars will be going this game's way the moment it becomes purchasable on my Vita.  I am thoroughly sold at this point in time, and if you're not, I seriously have to question why. just don't like JRPGs, which is understandable.  Even still, this is ambitious and while I hope it's ready a year from now, I'll check my expectations here.  When it's done, it's done and if that ends up being more like a year and a half or better, well, so be it.  Just make sure the game is as good as it can be, because we're looking forward to it now, DisasterCake.

please include a giant friggin' Harpoon Gun weapon for your airships please, because that thing was so awesome

Monday, July 15, 2013

Enjoy Twenty-Five Minutes of Murdered: Soul Suspect

It's quite an interesting little game.  I'd talk about it but a 25 minute time investment seems like enough of your time for one night.  Though perhaps another night I'll edit in my thoughts and point you back here so we can hash out some of my minor complaints about it thus far, as well as the numerous little cool things the trailer has to offer.  There are quite a few instances of both things, of course.